Why feeding our kids is such a battle (the pressure plague)

Every mother wants their children to eat a nutritious, balanced diet and grow up with a normal relationship to all kinds of food.

However, a lot of what we do – with the best of intentions – actually make kids’ eating way worse. Here’s why:

  1.  All children know how much to eat: the large child and the small child, the big eater and the small eater. They are born knowing how much to eat, and even though their appetites are totally unpredictable from meal to meal, they know how to balance themselves out over time. 
  2. Parents believe it’s their job to ensure a child eats the right amount of the right food. It means pressurizing a small child or small eater to eat more, or subtly or not-so-subtly  restricting a larger child.
  3. All and any pressure (any attempt to try influence what your child eats or doesn’t eat) BACKFIRES. It makes a restricted child eat more than he would, and it makes the child you try get to eat more eat less than he or she otherwise would. Feeding becomes about power struggles, and fear of not getting enough food.

Ellyn Satter, the revolutionary internationally recognized child feeding expert teaches parents about the sDOR:

Following the division responsibility in feeding preserves your child’s sensitivity to her internal sensations of hunger, appetite, and satiety. That sets her up for a lifetime of eating as much as she needs and weighing what is right for her.

The Satter Division of Responsibility says:

  • You are responsible for whatwhen and where your child is fed.
  • Your child is  always responsible for how much and whether he eats of the foods you offer. 
Your jobs with feeding include having to:
  • Choose and prepare the food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks.
  • Make eating times pleasant.
  • Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to . . .  
  • Eat the amount he needs.
  • Grow predictably in the way that is right for him. 

Now, back to pressure. Pressure usually results in feeding struggles and conflict.

Here’s why: (thanks to Katja Rowell for this fantastic visual)

Pressure comes in many forms such as:

  •  bribe, pressure, and cater, prepare only foods children like
  • Not believing children when they say they are full and encourage them to eat more
  • Bargaining, negotiating or threatening if they don’t eat
  • hiding food, not buying foods which are high calorie/fat
  • just one bite rule
  • encouraging, coercing and cajoling 
  • not making enough of a “high calorie/high fat” food
  • running out of foods regularly
  • the “look” if they eat too much
  • saying you need to eat more salad before you can have more rice/potatoes
  • feeding a child who can easily feed themselves
  • bribe with dessert to eat “healthy” food
  • serving everyone and not allowing second helpings
  • ask your child “are you really still hungry” at the meal 
  • telling your bigger child to eat salad
  • running around with food after your child trying to get them to eat more
  • playing games to get a child to open their mouth
  • clapping, praising a child for eating 
  • stickers or rewards for eating 
  • forcing a child to finish what’s on their plate
  • making comments about their eating/ calling them names eg the picky eater, the difficult eater, the big eater

Once we realize that these actions are actually pressure, and we hold back, many feeding struggles dissipate.

In fact, the first step in my coaching and courses is always to understand what pressure looks like and see when you are using it with your children. And then to try stop using pressure. The results are amazing. 

Pressure I used when trying to get my daughter to grow “properly”: Using musical toys to distract my daughter so I could get food into her, hiding egg yolk in her yogurt, forcing food into her mouth when she closed her mouth, feeding her in the bath, following her around with food. My pressure was driven by a belief that to be a good mother, I had to get her to eat and grow a certain amount. And If I did not succeed, I had failed as a mother.

If only I knew that how much or little your child eats and your child’s size is no reflection of your value as a mother.

Think about those foods you were forced to eat when you were young – do you enjoy them today?

Probably not. Pressure fails – in the short and long term.

Challenge:  Neutrally try and observe when you use pressure, what pressure you use and how your kids react. Ask yourself – why am I using pressure? Inevitably you will find it’s because you don’t trust your child with eating. And see, can you hold back? And what happens if you do?

Removing pressure is the first step to  raising children who are a joy to feed. 

Are you up for it?

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